There’s no debating it: 2000 to 2015 was a great decade and a half for global ‘schooling’. With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as the driving force, the number of out-of-school children has almost halved, from 107.5 in 1999 to 57.2 million in 2011. Never in the history of human kind have so many children been in school.
However, we too often equate access to education with the realisation of a broader right to education.
Realising the right to education for all
This is a mistake, because while millions more children have started primary school, millions of young children do not receive the necessary early learning and stimulation that will enable them to actually thrive at school; while millions more children are in school, many of them are not actually learning while they are there; and while millions more children have started school, millions will drop out before they have completed their basic education cycle – whether it’s as a result of conflict or other crises, because they’ve been forced into an early marriage, gender-based violence and discrimination or poverty.
And let’s not forget about the poorest and most marginalised children, particularly girls and those with disabilities, who are still missing out completely – the daily realities of poverty and discrimination combining to prevent them from realising their right to education.
On the eve of a new post-2015 framework that will define the sustainable development agenda for the next generation, we must focus on realising the right to education for all children.
On the eve of a new post-2015 framework that will define the sustainable development agenda for the next generation, we must focus on realising the right to education for all children. While the proposed education goal and targets within the Sustainable Development Goals go some way achieving this, two crucial issues still need to be resolved: the proposed indicators and the financing framework.
Measuring progress: targets and indicators
Progress should be measured against achieving both the right to education and the aims of education, as set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In this sense, the indicators should reflect a broader view of education that goes beyond those currently available. With regard to quality of education and learning outcomes, for example, indicators should go beyond literacy and numeracy to take into account all important domains of life. When it comes to equality, this implies going beyond ‘parity indicators’ that focus only on the number of children of certain groups going to school towards indicators that do justice to – and seek to redress – the multidimensional nature of discrimination and inequality in education.
Crucially, these global indicators need to be translated into national rights-based indicator frameworks that allow states to measure progress made against global goals and targets, while ensuring that indicators are reflective of national policy and context-specific priorities.
Financing the framework
Even with the best possible targets and indicators, the framework will be a lame-duck if it is not backed up by the necessary funding. In recent years, the annual global funding gap to realise the education goal in the current MDG framework (universal basic education) amounted to €26 billion. If national governments and donors do not considerably raise their education budgets, it will simply be impossible to ever accomplish a much more ambitious education goal under the new framework.
Not only do governments need to raise their education budgets, they need to make sure that budgets are allocated strategically in order to remove barriers to education for the most marginalised, because most of the education budgets do not tend to reach the least privileged and most vulnerable groups. According to the World Bank for example, 10% of the most educated children receive 43% of education public spending in low-income sub-Saharan African countries.
One way governments could do this is to undertake systematic gender reviews of their national education sector plans; examining plans, curricula and textbooks through a gender lens. This would help to inform and develop gender-sensitive and -responsive national education budgets, policies and programmes that enable governments to tackle the obstacles preventing so many children – girls in particular – from accessing a good quality education.
Donors like the European Commission and EU member states have a clear responsibility towards realising the universal right to education for all children. We have seen a dramatic decrease in aid to education in recent years, and a serious commitment by the international community towards the post-2015 framework and the education goal in particular are critical to its success.
This requires a sharp U-turn in the current donor trend to deprioritise aid to education: donors must finally live up to their long-held commitment to provide 0.7% of their Gross National Product to Official Development Assistant, of which at least 10% must go directly to basic education.
In this European Year for Development, on the eve of the post-2015 sustainable development framework, the EU should lead by example and support every child’s right to receive a quality education.
By Hans De Greve, Research and Advocacy Advisor, Plan Belgium